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Sanctuary inspires the arts

ALPENA — From building-sized fish murals to international film festivals, the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary has inspired many artists in the community and beyond.

The sanctuary, protected waters in Lake Huron along the Northeast Michigan shoreline, is the main inspiration behind the annual Thunder Bay International Film Festival, a celebration of films inspired by the ocean and Great Lakes.

The festival’s student competition features entries from eighth-graders through high school seniors who produce films four minutes long or shorter.

Alpena High School students Connor Caplis and River Servia took fifth place in the 2020 festival for their film “Mystery of the Besser Bell Wreck.”

Connor said the film required a lot of creativity, including in the production of music, where he wrote and performed all the music for the film soundtrack.

Despite disliking swimming, Connor said snorkeling on his first shipwreck made him to want to learn how to scuba dive and continue making films.

“We’re focusing on the sanctuary, so we had to reach out to people within the sanctuary and talk to them about the shipwrecks,” he said. “We had to dive on the shipwreck to get the footage. Hopefully, we can go dive on it more this summer and maybe enter another film festival next year.”

John Caplis, Connor’s father, is a science teacher at Alpena High School and motivated him and other students in his Science in the Sanctuary class to participate in the festival. Caplis said his students had to use software like iMovie to produce the films and worked with local film professionals to get pointers on how to put a film together from start to finish.

The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries holds a national photo contest in which several winning photos featured the Thunder Bay sanctuary.

Byran Dort won a first-place prize in 2018 with a photo depicting his wife on a stand-up paddleboard floating over the shipwreck of the steamer Albany in Thunder Bay.

Dort said he got interested in drones in 2017 and discovered it was a great way to take pictures of shallow wrecks close to the shore.

“I’ve done research-oriented shots where we’re taking shots over a period of time, but I also like the art aspect of it,” Dort said. “For me, it’s a connection to the past. I like the history of it, but, sometimes, history can be a little bit dry, and this gives me a way to show others a way to connect with the past and to share what’s out here.”

Justin Christensen-Cooper, executive director of Art in the Loft in downtown Alpena, said one of the most notable art pieces inspired by the sanctuary is the downtown fish mural by artist Tony Hendrick. The mural was first erected in 2017 and re-erected in 2019 after a windstorm destroyed the first installation.

“We wanted to create this public work of art that people could visit and become another beacon in the community,” Christensen-Cooper said. “The really unique thing about it is we not only used a mural artist to help direct, design, and lead it, but we also got people physically painting the mural from the community.”

The sanctuary will partner with Art in the Loft later this year for an event called Art Wave, which celebrates the sanctuary’s 20th anniversary and Art in the Loft’s 2020 theme of water.

The Sanctuary hosts “Surf’s Up,” an exhibit featuring surfing artists from all over the Great Lakes and the latest paddling films from all over the world.

This year’s event is scheduled for July 31 and Aug 1.

The Thunder Bay Chalk Art Contest takes place along the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Trail on July 4.

“We have a very talented community of artists,” said Katie Wolf, NOAA affiliate. “The Friends of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the sanctuary are so grateful to work with community partners to bring such rich art and cultural programming to northeast Michigan.”

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